Cattle splinter groups urged to 'get back in the boat'

Cattle splinter groups urged to 'get back in the boat'

Commercial
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Calls for unity and stronger advocacy, particularly in grassfed cattle

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CALLS for unity in advocacy, particularly where grassfed cattle producers are concerned, were made at an industry event, held both live and online, this week.

Hosted by Agforce Queensland, The Business of Beef featured four prominent Queensland producers: David Hill, Bryce Camm, Mark Davie and Russell Lethbridge.

ALSO READ:Too much spent on chasing interest groups down wombat holes: Agforce webinar

Mr Davie kicked off the talk about the need to have a 'strong, united, well-funded force' working on behalf of grassfed producers.

"What I'm talking about is a restructure of CCA (Cattle Council of Australia)," he said.

He urged splinter groups with important things to say to 'get back in the boat'.

"In leaving, they've created an alternative voice for government to listen to and made us all weaker," Mr Davie said.

"CCA is the strongest boat we have so we all need to get in it. We can bring our bags of rocks and throw them at each other inside that boat until we form a shape that best serves us.

"And everything is up for debate, even its name."

Mr Davie believes that body can not be a committee under the National Farmers' Federation.

"You can not represent everything or you will stand for nothing," he said.

Queensland in particular must maintain representation equivalent to its position in the national herd.

The structure must include a large policy board that represents the diverse geographies, systems and markets involved in beef production, Mr Davie said.

"I've been on zoom conferences where southern producers have openly campaigned against the interests of live export," he said.

And the organisation must be capable of representing producers of all size.

"At the moment, some corporates are pulling out of industry organisations because they feel they can get doors open in Canberra themselves," he said.

"If we have a single united voice the government has no choice but to pursue what is in our interests."

Behind the scenes

Mr Davie said the vast majority of producers only participate when they are under siege and that creates a reactive industry when a proactive one is needed.

"The bulk of work happens behind closed doors, not in front of the media, so it's difficult for producers to appreciate the amount of issues that arise on a daily basis in advocacy - the small wins that producers never hear about where advocacy helps to stop bad ideas becoming bad policy," he said.

"Anyone not a member feels the industry group does not represent them but in reality they are being represented on a daily basis.

"We also see people resign because they feel a group has done something they don't agree with - for every one of those things there will be 20 more that has helped to support your business."

His overall message: Pay your fees and hop in the boat.

Russell Lethbridge, from commercial breeding, growing and fattening enterprise Werrington Cattle Company, agreed, saying strong representation could only happen with absolute participation.

Great things can come from unity, he said, pointing to the recent High Court ruling in favour of producers seeking compensation over the 2011 ban on the live cattle trade to Indonesia.

Mr Lethbridge said it should not be forgotten that result was only possible because of the contribution of state farming organisations, yet at this point in time there is less than 50 per cent participation in those organisations.

"I'd be the first to accept we may not have the best structures in place right now, but let's fix them from the inside," he said.

"Every single person (on industry boards) every morning gets out of bed to do something good for the industry, so we need to get behind these people."

Mr Camm, who oversees his family's integrated beef and cropping enterprise with interests across Queensland, said he found the 'progression you have to take people on' when you are part of an industry group frustrating at first.

"But there is a richness in understanding the diversity across our entire national beef supply chain," he said.

"We speak about singing from one hymn book - that's never going to happen and that's ok.

"There are many production systems that are very different. The Wagyu breeder on King Island is not always going to see eye-to-eye with the live-ex supplier in the Pilbara.

"The processor has a competitive notion against the grassfed producer. There are many dynamics at play in our sector."

But there were times when all could and should work together - crisis management scenarios, for example.

"It's important people stand up if they have a problem with what's going on in their sector, particularly in the grassfed sector," Mr Camm said.

"It is the engine room of our entire industry and its representative body should be one of strongest bodies in this nation."

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